Forgiveness Does Not Require Forgetting or Reconciling

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!
—Psalm 133:1

Many people wrongly assume that forgiving another person requires forgetting the offense the person committed against us. Such a demand prevents people from experiencing the healing benefits of forgiveness for several reasons.

First, asking someone to forget the hurt he has endured is often viewed as denying the seriousness of the offense. Try saying to a survivor of the Holocaust who saw her child taken to the crematorium, “You need to forget about that and get on with your life.” To do that would be to diminish the seriousness of the crime and the value of her child’s life.

Additionally, telling people they must forget an offense is asking them to do something that is impossible. Forgiving is a spiritual function, but forgetting is a biological function. Memories are embedded in the brain though chemical and electronic impulses. Although we cannot always recall certain experiences at will (like where we placed our car keys), those memories are still in our brain and could resurface at any time. It is impossible for people to perform a “memory wipe” of their brain. However, forgiveness is a spiritual function in which a victim chooses to surrender any right for revenge and trusts God to deal justly with the wrongdoer.

Forgiveness also does not require reconciling with our offender. Some people mistakenly think that truly letting go of an offense requires reconciliation with the person who hurt them. In fact, some people claim you cannot truly forgive someone unless you are willing to be reunited with your offender. After all, didn’t Jesus demand that we be willing to forgive others “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22)?

Certainly reestablishing a relationship with someone who has wronged us is a desirable goal that should not be diminished in any way. The Bible consistently extols the value of reconciliation with our enemies (Ephesians 4:3-4; Philippians 2:2). Although reconciliation between Christians is a preferred outcome, it is not always possible. While forgiveness is a unilateral action without any conditions, reconciliation is a mutual decision between us and our offender that demands the fulfilling of several conditions.

First, the offender must demonstrate repentance. Second, the offender must be rehabilitated. And restoring a broken relationship may also require restitution. Understanding the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation is vital. We can and must forgive those who wrong us, but that forgiveness does not always result in a restored relationship with our offender.

Today’s devotion is excerpted from “How Can I Know How to Forgive Someone Who Has Hurt Me?” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2012.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.


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